From primitive and natural Dominica, I took a ferry to what surprised me as one of the most modern and developed islands in the Caribbean. As usual, the ferry ride was a delight. I love the legroom and the ease of boarding. Ferries are cheaper than planes, by the way. The ferry docked in the center of Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique. My hotel was an easy two-block stroll from the the ferry dock. Nice!
When the French settled this island, they needed to protect their sugar cane plantations from the British. So a large fort was built in the harbor. That’s how Martinique’s capital city got its name. Martinique was once known as Ioünacaera: Iguana Island. These small dinosaurs can still be seen chasing pigeons in the city parks.
Fort-de-France wasn’t always Martinique’s capital. Like other Caribbean islands, Martinique is volcanic. In 1902, Mount Pelée, a volcano at the north end of the island, erupted destroying the city of Saint-Pierre, aka the Little Paris of the West Indies. In ten minutes, a pyroclastic blast killed all but one of the city’s 30,000 residents. (The sole survivor was a prisoner in a windowless cell.) This eruption remains the deadliest volcanic eruption in the world since Krakatoa in 1883. Although Pelée has been quiet since 1932, in December 2020, the Martinique Volcano Observatory raised the volcano’s alert level to Yellow from Green due to an increase in seismicity under the volcano. Seismic activity has been migrating up from a depth of 10 km to 5 km possibly indicating the arrival of new magmatic fluids and a reactivation of the volcano. If you’re thinking of visiting Martinique, this might be a good time to go.
My visit to Martinique was only two days — just enough to explore Fort-de-France. This isn’t the biggest city in the Caribbean, but it’s the biggest one I’ve seen in a while. As a French overseas territory, Martinique benefits from grant aid from mainland France. The roads are paved, the wifi works and there’s a great bus system. There are also lots of well-maintained, grand buildings that look very European.
The iconic building in the middle of the city that appears in all the post cards is the Cathedral de Saint Louis. Its construction is similar to the cathedral in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, with steel reinforced framing to make it resistant to hurricanes, earthquakes and termites.
One of my favorite buildings in the city is the library. When I first saw it, I wondered if it might be a mosque. The interior spaces are as exotic-looking as its exterior.
In my short visit to Martinique, I walked all over Fort-de-France, visited the museums, got a sense of what the local culture is like, and enjoyed excellent baguettes, cheese and wine. I might come back here sometime for a longer visit.
As for Covid travel restrictions, I had to show my vaccination card and a negative Covid antigen test (obtained in Dominica) in order to board my ferry to Martinique. I’m getting used to this routine. Getting tested as I travel from island to island is an inconvenience, but it’s not difficult. Every place I’ve been so far has had a pharmacy or two where I could walk in without appointment, get a swab stuck up my nose, and receive certified results by email within an hour. The average price for an antigen test has been about $40. Although these tests add to the cost of travel, I appreciate how island governments are trying to protect their citizens. It’s not too high a price to pay to stay healthy. Travel is still fun.